Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘teachers’

Muslims, Words and Dr. King

A Muslim Reflection on Dr. King’s Legacy of Peace Through Words
by Najeeba Syeed-Miller. Posted 1/21/2013.
Follow Najeeba Syeed-Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NajeebaSyeed

The shaykh with whom I studied ethics would speak nearly perfect Arabic throughout the day and address everyone in his path with great respect, even in the grammar of his speech. I asked him why he put such care into his choice of words, he would say, “Najeeba, most importantly, in the form of our words, we should pursue beauty and elevate discourse.”

His words and monumental effort in expressing himself in a way that was sublime has always stayed with me. In essence, he was establishing a confluence between the choice of words he used, their elegant arrangement, his affect and the cognitive functions of communicating. He rounded these together in every utterance so that each sound he made was calibrated to increase beauty in the world and create a relational quality in the way he spoke with others.

As I reflect on why Dr. King so profoundly affected my journey as a peacemaker, it is because he also exemplified that capacity to elevate discourse by harnessing the resources of language to move the level of discussion deeper and higher. In this process, his prose and speeches resonated particularly with those who knew his context. At the same time, they echo in ways that are illuminating with a universal radiance because they appeal to the heart, mind and soul at the very same time.

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As a Muslim, I have been taught the Qur’anic principles of engagement: To speak with the best words and with words of goodness when I am in a state of difference with another. Often in the past, I thought of this injunction as emphasizing the idea of persuasiveness. I have since found that there are other important aspects to these teachings that emphasize generosity and respect for the other in exchanges.

In thinking about the language of my teachers and Dr. King, I have come to recognize that one major element of constructing conversations that are beautiful in both form and process is this encompassing eloquence that can integrate emotional and cognitive approaches to social change.

It is easy to separate thought and emotion, to parse out the heart from the head. What makes Dr. King’s words drum in our hearts and minds far after we’ve first read them or heard them is the genius of his understanding that social justice is not merely an externally focused pursuit of rights;it is a rearrangement of the interior human landscape in how we see and feel about ourselves, the world and one another.

There is an element of slowing down, appreciating his text and speeches because of their sheer beauty. It causes me to listen both to the content and the orchestration of his language. I am engaged with the ideas and the emotional quality. He speaks of the greatest ugliness manifested by humanity in ways that push me to see that internally, I too, may be capable of such monstrosity if not for the vigilance necessary to keep my heart, mind and actions intertwined to actualize dignity and peace. He behooves us to respond with an ethical approach not just in action, but also in insuring that even (or especially) an enemy is never demonized nor dehumanized in our depiction of them.

So perhaps one lesson to glean from our celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is how we can move beyond competitive modes of talking, into a state of communal conversation that solemnizes an oath to speak with such careful thoughtfulness, so that the very act of forming a word is a sacred exertion of our highest sense of self.

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We’ve Come A Long Way

From ROP Stories

We’ve come a long way, baby!
31 March, 2012 by Sean

Sometimes it’s hard to believe just how much progress the Rwandan Orphans Project has made in just the last couple of years. The reason I bring this up is because we are approaching the second anniversary of the Center’s move from the dark, dank warehouse that we had called home for several years to our wonderful current home on the outskirts of Kigali.

The building itself was bad enough: little more than a two-story warehouse that was actually meant to be three floors but construction ceased during the 1994 Genocide and never restarted.

We occupied the “second floor” which meant our roof was never meant to be a roof, and therefore it wasn’t built to withstand the elements, particularly Rwanda’s heavy rains. The only thing keeping water from flooding the classrooms and dorm rooms was the plastic sheeting that composed the “roof”.

This also meant that the building’s electrical and plumbing work had never been completed, or, in truth, barely even started. We had two light bulbs in the entire place, one in the foyer and another in the teachers office, and most days neither worked. I recall our teachers grading papers many times by candlelight or the light from their phone screens in the middle of the day. Scattered randomly throughout the Center, usually on the floor, were bare wires that the staff and children would wrap around plugs to power radios and the keyboard that was missing about 30% of its keys. When it rained the inside of the center became filled with various puddles and the boys would snake the wires around them, but often they would end up in the water anyway. I received my own fair share of 240 volt shocks from this setup.

Below us on the ground floor was a warehouse for storing beans, maize flour and other foods. The men who worked there were gruff and not particularly child-friendly. Actually, they seemed to see our boys as more of an annoyance than anything. I recall a couple of times when our boys were playing football and they would accidentally kick the ball near these workers. They would often kick the ball over the wall into the swamp or taunt the boys telling them they were keeping it for themselves.

Speaking of football, I would say the “playground” at the old Center was a joke if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so dangerous. Freight trucks would lumber around it as the children were attempting to play. The makeshift football ground was also a danger. The grass was always knee high and it masked all the stones, glass and metal scraps beneath, causing endless wounds because the boys had to play barefoot. In their usual creative way the boys made a makeshift volleyball court inside the warehouse by stretching a string from one pillar to another and using a ball made from plastic bags, banana tree leaves and scrap string they scavenged. This same ball was usually used for football and any other ball games.

The kitchen was a sad affair. It was nothing more than a large pot cooking on a three stone fire in a mud-brick hut. Water for cooking had to be fetched from the facility’s only tap on the other side of the building.

Every day, with very few exceptions throughout the year, the children ate beans and maize flour (ugali). On the rare occasion that someone donated fruit and vegetables we had to eat them within a day or two otherwise the rats would finish them off. When the food was ready about 200 boys would line up to get their plate. Some ate outside while others went back into the building and would sit on the floor to eat. We had no tables for them to sit at.

Back in the Center, the learning facilities were rather basic as well. The “library” consisted of donated books, most of which were decades old and pretty much all of them had water damage to some degree. The teachers had to share lesson books and even pencils due to the lack of resources. Despite these challenges our teachers were able to perform amazing work with the not-so-easy task of trying to educate the 200 children living at the Center at the time along with the 150 or so “day scholars”, kids from the streets and local poor families who crowded into our Center each day for the free lessons.

Then there were the dormitories. There were three dorm rooms in the Center. Two were for the young and middle-aged boys and they were the most crowded. Each was full of rusting bunk beds with old moldy mattresses and shredded mosquito nets that really served no purpose at all. Bigger boys slept two to a bed while the smaller children slept three to a bed. These rooms were the darkest, dampest and stinkiest in the building. Bed bugs, moths, rats and other critters also shared these spaces.

The oldest and biggest boys occupied their own room on the far side of the building. Here they propped up sheets, tarps and any other materials they had scavenged to create their own private spaces. They had also ran electrical wires from the front of the building and setup their own ad hoc power grid to power their radios and charge their phones. It seemed more like a back alley hideout than a place for people to live.

In February of 2010 the ROP changed our role from being solely donors, dismissed the staff who had been mismanaging our funds and formally took over the management of the Center. In March the Rwandan government came knocking, telling us that the warehouse was an unsuitable place for children to live and they we must move. We agreed with their assessment but we hadn’t another place to go to nor the funds to rent another facility. We rushed around Rwanda hoping to find an abandoned building or some old place we could rent cheaply while we looked for another place. Near the end of March the government came back and gave us 15 days to move or they would shut us down. We feared the worst.

A few days later we were told about a school just outside of Kigali that wasn’t being used anymore. It was owned by a large secondary school across the road but hadn’t been functioning since 1994. The people who owned it sympathized with our plight and told us we could move there and stay free of charge. As you can imagine the place wasn’t in the best condition but it had potential. It was in a nice, quiet area far from the dangers and temptations of the city. It was open and bright and had plenty of room for the children to play. It was a new home for our boys and a fresh start for the ROP. We gladly began moving out of that dark and claustrophobic place the boys had called home for so many years.

Fast forward two years and our new home is better than ever, thanks to all the creativity, effort and money we’ve poured into it. Thanks to all the hard work of our staff and children, along with all the wonderful assistance we’ve received from our donors, we now have…

A teachers office
A real volleyball court
An amazing new kitchen
A big dining hall with tables
A sprawling playground
A nursery school
A library/playroom
A formal health clinic
Real classrooms with proper benches and natural light
A football team
A capoeira team

I could go on and on, but there are plenty of other blog posts here that share all of the wonderful things that we are able to offer our children at the ROP.

As great as this story is, this is not the final chapter. Unfortunately we do not own the land or the buildings, and the people who do have decided to begin charging us a large amount of rent every month. This puts a huge strain on our already tight budget, and as a result the future of the ROP might be at risk, as well as the futures of the children under our care . Thankfully, last year we received an extremely generous donation from Tony and Carol Roberts from Australia that allowed us to purchase our own land not far from our current location. We are grateful to them every day. While this was the first step towards our independence it remains difficult to raise funding not only to continue operating at our current location but to also put aside money for building facilities on our new property. We remain optimistic, however, that people within Rwanda as well as those from around the world will see just how far we’ve come in such a short time and will give us the support we need to not only survive, but to continue to thrive.

Read entire story with additional photographs at ROP Stories.

Donate to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project at Donate

Teachers In Bahrain

Dear Gabriel,

Boiling with civic unrest, yesterday marked a dangerous flash point in Bahrain.

Feb. 14 was the first anniversary of widespread protests against the government. The violent crackdown that followed those 2011 protests caused the country to slide into a crisis that still festers with human rights abuses. Yesterday, Bahraini protesters took to the streets to demand that the government keep its promises to make much needed political reforms.

The coming week will bring an appeal hearing for two teacher leaders — Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb — who were punished for organizing a peaceful teacher strike during last year’s protests.

Tell Bahrain’s government: Don’t jail teachers for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Tortured, denied due process, and unfairly convicted of “inciting hatred” and “attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force,” Jalila and Mahdi were sentenced to three and 10 years, respectively. Their next appeal hearing takes place on Feb. 19.

During a December hearing, Mahdi showed obvious signs of being beaten. Our sources say he remains in poor health, yet his lawyer’s request for release on bail was denied. Mahdi may die in prison, and the Bahrain government will have more blood on its hands.

Bahrain’s leaders have pledged reform, yet abuses continue. Protesters like Jalila and Mahdi brave violence day in and day out in their march for basic freedoms.

Show Bahrain’s human rights defenders that we have their back.

Demand justice for Jalila and Mahdi.

In solidarity,

Michael O’Reilly
Senior Director, Individuals at Risk Campaign
Amnesty International USA

Stop State Killings

Dear friend,

We have a historic opportunity in California. We can shut down the nation’s biggest and most expensive death penalty system, with 720 death row inmates and a $4 billion price tag. But to be successful, we need to gather 750,000 voter signatures by February 15 (today).

We’re well on our way to gathering the signatures we need to put the measure on the ballot, but with only a few weeks left, we still need a lot of help. And we can only end the madness through another vote.

The SAFE California Act will replace California’s death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole as the maximum punishment for murder. This means convicted killers will remain behind bars forever, but with no risk of executing an innocent person.

California taxpayers will save well over $100 million every year without releasing a single prisoner.

Please sign up now to volunteer and help us collect the remaining signatures we need to qualify the initiative and shut down death row in California.

Click here to sign up:

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=271062&id=35593-1274818-jp4nDGx&t=1

Why replace the death penalty with life without parole?

1. With the death penalty we will always risk executing an innocent person. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in the U.S., 140 innocent men and women have been freed from death row.1 Franky Carrillo from Los Angeles was released from prison last March after 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.2

2. Many people think that the death penalty costs less than life in prison with no chance of parole, but that’s just not true. California taxpayers would save well over $100 million every year, as well as hundreds of millions in one-time savings.3

3. Dangerous criminals must be caught and brought to justice, yet a shocking 46% of murders and 56% of rapes go unsolved every year in California, on average.4 We need to use our very limited public funds to get more criminals off our streets to protect our families. SAFE California would dedicate $100 million in budget savings to the investigation of open rape and murder cases.

4. While we cut our state budget for schools, violence prevention, and law enforcement, California spends millions of dollars on death row. We need more teachers in the classroom, not more lawyers in the courtroom.

Please join the SAFE California campaign. Volunteer to replace California’s death penalty.

Click here to sign up:

http://www.moveon.org/r?r=271062&id=35593-1274818-jp4nDGx&t=2

Thank you,

–Natasha Minsker, SAFE California

Teachers In Bahrain

The nightmare faced by two teachers in Bahrain. It’s why we Write for Rights.

Dear Gabriel,

The terrifying threats. “We can do anything to you. Anything.” Mocked, tortured, threatened. Forced to sign a confession, without even being allowed to read it. Civilians subject to an unjust military trial.

This is the story of two former leaders of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, who were arrested and ill-treated during this spring’s protests in Bahrain. Jalila and Mahdi are among the 15 cases featured in Amnesty’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon this year.

Write a letter for Jalila and Mahdi, and other urgent human rights cases — join thousands of others worldwide to Write for Rights this December.

Your letters are urgently needed. Next week marks a key milestone in Jalila and Mahdi’s case. One day after International Human Rights Day on December 10th, Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb face an appeal hearing.

Why are these two teachers considered so “dangerous”? Because their trade union called for a teachers strike during Bahraini protests this spring — protests seeking reform of a government that has used torture and excessive force against its own citizens.

Jalila and Mahdi have seen the horrific behavior of Bahrain’s government firsthand. Mahdi spent 64 days in solitary confinement, where he says he was tortured. And when Jalila demanded a lawyer after her arrest, she says the authorities rebuffed her with the chilling words: “Who said you would have a lawyer in here? It’s us, only us. And we have the permission to do anything to you to [get] the testimony we want.”

After unfair trials before a military court, Jalila was sentenced to three years in prison, and Mahdi was sentenced to ten years. It’s clear that Bahrain’s authorities have no regard for human rights.

Don’t let Jalila and Mahdi face their appeal hearing alone. Be there by writing a letter. It’s not too late — join us to Write for Rights.

Thank You,

Michael O’Reilly
Senior Director, Individuals at Risk Campaign
Amnesty International USA

The Zen of Teaching

The Buddha in the Classroom: Zen Wisdom To Inspire Teachers by Donna Quesada (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011). Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Shared in three insightful and instructive sections (The Burned-out Professor; The Classroom; and Philosophizing Burnout) The Buddha In The Classroom provides situations, discussions and examples of how easy it is for teachers to become “the other” and see their students as “problems, situations, annoyances, complaining, disruptive and disrespectful”, especially when the instructor is caught in their own routines, ego and need to “control” or “teach them a lesson”.

Every instance of conflict, frustration or anger that is presented, is followed by a section called “Dharma: The Lesson for Teachers”. Dharma simply means teaching or “the teaching”. This is where the author brings in her experiences and conversations she’s had as a practitioner of Zen-Buddhism and yoga and how they can be applied to the classroom. For example, after a section on discipline and a student that has acted out, she says, “As any mother knows, even in the context of one small family, each child has her own character with her own unique needs.” It is no different in the classroom. Nothing can be set in stone for every individual. Connection, understanding and paying attention to our perceptions can change night into day.

Some may ask, how is Zen-Buddhism or meditation in the classroom, any different from other aspects of life. It’s not. The same principles and practices Ms. Quesada advocates for teachers can be applied in any situation and at any time. She states, “I used to tell my students: if I had to sum up Buddhism in just one statement, I would call it the discipline of letting go. Letting go of what? The ego. The self. The idea of self, and the cloak of separateness the ego-self wears.” The practice of letting go of one’s perceptions of self and others is never more apparent or magnified than it is in the classroom. That is what makes this book different than other titles, which proclaim, “Zen in Art; Zen and Writing, The Zen of Running, etc.” The author speaks from experience and shows how she applies mindfulness and consistency to the way she deals with grades, tardiness, disruptions, tests and other familiar issues that teachers confront daily. It isn’t fairy-airy ideology or philosophy that is proposed, but down-to-earth mindfulness and consistent work on our selves.

Ironically or perhaps not, the author teaches philosophy at a community college in Santa Monica California. Teachers and other readers will find however, that the Zen lesson plan presented contextually as a work of non-fiction, is equally valuable for teachers and students at all grade levels. She has found that the most effective learning and connections take place when we realize that, “There has never been anything else but the present moment, yet we continue to reside in the fictional world of the past and the whimsical fantasies of the future. We never give the same lecture twice. We are not the same teachers we were last year or even yesterday.” She says that bringing the practice of mindfulness or awareness to the moment and letting go of our ego helps us get clear and enables us to turn our attention wholeheartedly to the students. When we do this “there is a magical shift that occurs with this simple shift of attention.”

Not only is The Buddha In The Classroom something that can be utilized in its entirety, by sections or a few pages at a time, it is also easy on the eyes and deftly designed by LeAnna Weller Smith. It is a cross between a hardcover/paperback and in some ways resembles a small Christian Bible. It doesn’t matter whether you are religious, spiritual or meditate; if you are a teacher of 20 years or just starting out, you will surely find some pertinent gems of wisdom in this small collection, with which you can resonate and put into practice (in and out of the classroom).

Recess in Rwanda

An excerpt from a story written by Sean Jones for ROP Stories. ROP Stories is the sister site to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project (ROP Center for Street Children)

Recess at the ROP School

We all remember recess, that wonderful time we couldn’t wait for when we could temporarily forget about listening to our teachers, taking notes and waiting to go outside to play. Well it’s no different at the Rwandan Orphans Project’s school. Every day at 10 o’clock the Commissioner of Education – the boy chosen by his peers to assist the teachers – blows his whistle and within seconds children begin fleeing their classrooms.

Most of the older boys like to take this time to play volleyball on our makeshift court. Landouard, one of our teachers, usually comes out and takes on the job of referee and coach. This generally prevents arguing over rules and points that inevitably occurs when the boys are left on their own.

The small boys usually divide up into two groups; those who wants to play games like cards and igisoro and those who want to play sports. Several of them who choose sports play football, but there is also a group of boys who like to practice gymnastics by jumping and flipping around. This usually turns into a game of oneupmanship as each boy tries to do something too difficult for the others to replicate.

Read the rest of this great story, plus additional photos at: ROP STORIES.

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